Priorities <= Identity

Identity = Priorities

We can often be tempted to put our loves and even likes front and center. When we do we open ourselves to perceive those who disagree as enemies, and they often perceive us as the same. Now we feel attacked so we call them evil and they reciprocate. Thus labeled it becomes difficult to engage in anything but war. Christians are called to war just not against people.

I grew up in a Christian family with a mom and dad who taught us that the key to fulfillment as Christians was to live out our calling to love others as we‘ve been loved ourselves by God. That means showing kindness and seeking to serve both believers and unbelievers, Both kindness and service are hard to exhibit when we at war with one another.

The seat of all this enmity is bound up in our priorities. I’m not referring to “to do” list priorities but to alliegiance priorities. Giving our first priority is God doesn’t mean we give up other things we prioritize it means we acknowledge that they are inferior to and will always come after our first priority. Christ should always be our first priority.

Christ is our first priority because we are his. 1 John 4:11 says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Every person, no matter how little or how much they differ from us, is valuable and dearly loved by God. If we now bear his name it is because he cleansed us with his blood and adopted us into his family. We are saved by God’s grace or not at all. He gives us grace to live lives that reflect him in how we love and treat others. All others not just those who vote like we do and agree with the things we love and like.

Priority proceeds from identity. If our identity is a Jesus follower then we surrender our will and pursue his will for our lives to bring him glory through the way we choose to live our lives. If our identity is a self determination follower then we surrender our will to no one and “do it my way” to bring fame, fortune, success, pleasure to ourselves through the way we choose to live our lives. These are two starkly different paths with two starkly different outcomes.

Take for example “the cancel culture”. This pop culture term is simply descriptive of the latest form of ostracism in which someone is “cancelled” out of social or professional circles – both online on social media, and in the real world. This pop phenomena should have no place in the life of a Jesus follower. Why not? Because Jesus, truly one with the right to “cancel” anyone, instead chose to love us. The self determination follower decides whether to “cancel” someone based on what benefits their own goals.

Priority proceeds from identity. I want to focus for the rest of this post on those of us who identify as a Jesus follower. Our response to those with whom we disagree should drastically be changed by our identity and the priorities that proceed from it.

How should we respond to those with whom we disagree Politically.

No political party has the market cornered on Christian beliefs, regardless of their claims. No political party is the antiChrist, regardless of what the other party claims. I write now as one who went down the partisan rabbit hole and forgot these two facts. I thus alienated, rather than loved, those with whom I disagreed — I repent of this sin again and ask Jesus, whom I follow, to give me the grace to treat others as I would like to be treated. Thankfully, I am not the one whose path you follow! As Christians we should love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact the divine distinctive of the Christian is love. (John 13:35)

When someone disagrees with us politically, how should we react? Of course it is OK to react by expressing our political views, with these provisos:

  • avoid partisan speak (no easy task in our world today)
  • avoid “going on the offensive” to prove our political view is best
  • avoid letting a political discussion devolve into a political debate
  • instead of becoming defensive or going into debate mode:
    • take a deep breath
    • pray for an attitude adjustment
    • extend grace to him or her by being kind (even if you don’t think they deserve it)
  • remind yourself of a time when God extended grace to you

Basically we need to learn when to let it go and to always treat those with whom we disagree politically (or otherwise) gracefully by reminding ourselves that we owe our very lives to God being gracious to us.

How should we respond to our “enemies.”?

In the Gospel according to St Luke he records these words of Jesus: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” It doesn’t take a great exegete to discern what Jesus means here,

If they are “enemies” (perceived or real) Jesus says to love him or her. No room for “cancel culture here. Knowing how we like to cling to “give them what they deserve” Jesus says do good to him or her. Knowing how we like to “dish the dirt” Jesus says bless him or her. Knowing how we like to ignore those who oppose us Jesus says pray for him or her. Then after some particularly relevant examples of how to respond to your enemies Jesus says for us to treat him or her as we would like him or her to treat us.

In the Gospel according to St John he records these words of Jesus: “I give you a new commandment- to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples- if you have love for one another.

Whether it is someone who voted differently than us or someone who has become an enemy, we can chose to follow our feelings or follow Jesus. We can let the partisan divide invade our home, church, or workplace. We can argue our position and hammer at theirs until we have created an enemy. Or we can see them as those for whom Christ died, and treat them accordingly. We can shut them down or lift them up in love and read “between the lines” and try to understand why they see the world the way they do. We can each go our separate ways, or we can find unity in our faith. We can choose to hate, or we can choose to love.

These are peculiar days. The pandemic. The election. Nerves are frayed. But I believe this is the perfect time to walk our talk before a world wanting to know if what we say we believe is authentic. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. Thank you for your saving grace. Please enable me to extend grace to others. Please give me a measure of your Holy Spirit and enable me thereby to love the unlovely just as you so graciously love me. Amen

Just The Facts

There are a lot of claims making the rounds on the internet about the legacy left by the Trump Administration. Some of the claims peaked my interest so I did some research to contextualize them in terms of President Trumps four years in office. This process always helps me discern the efficacy of the statement or claim as presented. Maybe this will be helpful to you as well. So here are the claims and my brief responses.

  • A gallon of gasoline today costs only a $1.80.
    • To put that in context the average cost of a gallon of gas in 2016 when Trump was elected was $2.14, in 2017 it cost $2.42, in 2018 it cost $2.72 and in 2019 it cost $2.60. The plunge in price during 2020 was caused by the worldwide drop in demand because people were “sheltering at home” to avoid getting or spreading the pandemic coronavirus.
    • www.statista.com
  • 30 year mortgage rate has dropped to only 2.45%
    • A average 30 year mortgage in 2016 was 3.65%, in 2017 it rose to 3.99%, in 2018 it rose to 4.54%, in 2019 it dropped to 3.94% and in 2020 it dropped to 3.62% until the pandemic caused the bottom to fall out of the housing market which caused the mortgage rate to drop to the present average of 2.45%. –www.freddiemac.com
  • During the 2020 election process the NYSE closed at a healthy 27,848.
    • In 2016 the stock market average closing was 17,927, in 2017 it rose to 21,750, in 2018 -it rose to 25,046, in 2019 it rose to 26,379 and the average close YTD in 2020 is 26,372. All in all an impressive growth rate.) –www.macrotrends.net
  • USA GDP growth for the 3rd Quarter of 2020 was 33%
    • To understand GDP quarterly growth percentage you have to understand that percentage is the annualized growth rate (as if it applied to 12 instead of 3 months) the applied as the percent of annualized growth in the 3rd Quarter over the annualized percent of growth in the 2nd Quarter. To put this into context this 33% is a historic jump for one quarter. However the percent of growth is historic not so much for its amount as for its cause. The almost complete shut down of our economy in the 2nd quarter was being reopened in the 3rd quarter. Assisting that reopening was the purpose of the CARES stimulus package. Put all that together and you realize that the 33% growth was a good sign but since it only references the 2nd quarter in reality the GDP rate of growth is still 10% under what it was in the 1st quarter at the beginning of the pandemic. –www.macrotrends.net
  • President Trump claims he built the greatest ever US economy prior to the coronavirus outbreak and that now it’s recovering faster than ever.
    • The economy was doing well prior to the pandemic – continuing a trend which began during the Obama administration – but there have been periods when it was much stronger. Since the historic economic contraction caused by the pandemic the economy has bounced back strongly but not faster than ever as it has a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic level. –https://www.bbc.com
  • Employment for all races was at an all time historical high prior to the pandemic.
    • Indeed, the unemployment rate among Black workers was the lowest ever, although it was still double that of white workers.-https://www.rand.org
  • There were no new wars during Trump’s presidency.
    • Although we continued during his entire term as President to wage the longest war in our history it is true that Trump joins John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as presidents who did not start any new wars during their administrations.-www.USAToday.com
  • The housing market is stronger than it has been in over 20 years.
    • The US housing market rose 5.4% in 2016, 6.3% in 2017, 4.1% in 2018, 2.5% in 2019 and 4.7% YTD in 2020. The US housing market is very strong now but it was even stronger in 2006 and 2014. So the housing market is the strongest it has been in over 5 years more truthful than claiming it is stronger than it has been in 20 years.-www.globalpropertyguide.comwww.ceicdata.com

Although there are other claims about and by the Trump administration, such as the claim that they have “ended the covid19 pandemic”, but I’ll let someone younger who is not still quarantined by the covid19 pandemic contextualize that one.

Why did I do all this research and why am I posting it here. One reason is simply that I’m retired so I have the time to do it. Another is that I’m good at and enjoy research. And last but not least I am sick and tired of undocumented half truths and untruths being posted on social media as fact. Once these claims are in the wild and go viral they further build up the partisan walls that divide us.

Do I think this will stop it? Not really, heck if a half dozen people read this it will be one of my more successful posts! But it sure felt good to dissect a few of these claims to see if they are true, half true, or misinformation. I’m sure that some who read this will conclude that I hate President Trump. To my shame I must admit that after the contentious election campaign of 2016 I did hate him or at least the public image of him. I repented of that sin and can say with a clear conscience that I do not hate either President Trump or citizen Trump. He still scares the hell out of me and I still find him untrustworthy so I pray fervently for him to receive wisdom to make the incredibly hard decisions he must make as President.

I also pray every morning that we as a nation will realize that we the people are more than our politics and become a kinder, more civil people. In short that we become what President Lincoln called our better angels.

Only then will President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” have any hope of coming true.

Dead Man Walking

(This is a revisit to my blog post from August 2010.)

On this date (Aug 1) in 2010 I laid in a bed in a darkened room in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Athens Regional Hospital (now Piedmont Athens Regional). I was in day 5 of 7 days of a medically induced coma breathing thanks to a ventilator . It doesn’t seem a decade since God delivered me from death, but it was. What happened ten years ago changed my life forever.

On July 28, 2010 I signed up for a 30 minute cruise to St Mary’s Hospital. While on board I was to have both sides of my heart examined via a heart catheter. My cardiologist would be assisted by my pulmonologist, who had requested the test.  I knew my hospital journey could be extended were blocked arteries found, even then it would be a scant 3 hour tour. 

Just like Gilligan and the skipper too.

Three blocked arteries were discovered, all treatable with stents. However, the second stent tore the arterial wall, triggered a mild heart attack, and just like that my 3 hour tour ended up on Gilligan’s Island.  Actually, I was transferred to (then) Athens Regional Hospital, where the #1 Cardiac Surgery team in Athens was waiting to preform open heart surgery.  They opened my chest about 3:45 pm and as they were moving my heart to the cryonic operating chamber I had a massive heart attack. 

For the next 4 hours they alternated between operating on my heart and emergency medical procedures to keep me alive.  I died for 4 minutes but was resusitated. They repaired my heart, put me into a coma and sent me to CCCU.  I didn’t know I was on Gilligan’s Island until 7 days later when they brought me out of the coma. My first impressions were terrifying: I was bound hand and foot, with a ventilator jammed down my throat. I was in a strange bed, in a darkened room battling to take a breath just as if I was drowning. 

In fact I missed Gilligan’s Island and landed on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. 

How much do I actually remember of my journey to this point? Do I remember the experiences described above? From leaving home to coming out of my coma I remember nada, zip, zero, zilch.

All I knew was that I  was bound hand and food, felt like I was drowning, and had no idea where I was or how I got there. To this day this was the most terrified I have ever been.  But the terror subsided and I became aware of who I was, where I was, why I was there and discovered a vast  conspiracy. 

It was a conspiracy involving friends, family, CCF and UGA Alums, campus ministers, pastors, people of faith in churches around the world.  My baby brother Bryan flew  in from the Republic of Panama, my brother Phil, doing relief work in Haiti, began praying, my brother Scott, in Korea teaching, began praying,  Sheila, my incredible wife, not only prayed but lead the conspiracy to get others praying.  My daughters Melissa and Jennifer prayed and spread the word through their churches.  Their husbands David Berry and Eric Rubio prayed, arranged childcare for my 7 grandsons and freed my daughters to take care of their mom and me.  Our son John flew in from Maryland, praying all the way.  My mother and daddy joined the conspiracy of praying and getting others to pray.  Sheila’s brother, Boyd,  and her mother drove down from their farm in N. Georgia.  

My firstborn, Melissa, was tasked to do what no daughter who loves her daddy should ever have to do: tell everyone gathered that my chance of survival was 50/50 at best.  And what a group of conspirators had gathered at Athens Regional! The group had grown so large that the hospital gave them their own waiting room.  Melissa fulfilled her dreaded task but then lost it.   Her Uncle Boyd came to the rescue and took it off her shoulders.  He had everyone join hands and by all accounts delivered a stirring prayer.  Miracles were happening but all I knew was that I felt like I was in a dark place drowning.  I felt like I was on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. But the truth was greater than my feelings. The conspiracy of faith in Jesus that will not give up prevailed!

The armies of Narnia were on the move.

Once the ventilator was removed from my throat I could breath again. Then I discovered the joy of ice chips.  While I chomped on ice chips co-conspirators Sheila, Melissa, Jennifer and John began answering my questions and filling in the gaps for me.  Amazingly I was released from CCCU to the Cardiac Stepdown Unit only 24 hours after coming out of my coma.

There I would regain the strength to walk and do simple tasks for myself.  More significantly my time in CSU was when the conspiracy came more clearly into focus.  Angela Denton-Rachel came by one day and I revealed that she had gone on my computer found my meeting planner folder and sent what was needed to the leaders of the Association of Campus Ministries to begin their National Student Conference.  Angela ordered me to rest and let them take care of the Conference.  One of the things that is remarkable about her actions was that I had retired from CCF in July so all she did was totally an act of love and loyalty to me.  Of course she also was praying and enlisting others to pray. 

I remained in the CSU for about 8 days.  My time there was painful and wonderful.  I got my stamina up to where I could walk 60 feet, which sounds like nothing but, at the time, was quite significant.  I also used my time there to recover my spiritual stamina and began praying and telling any one who would listen my testimony of how Jesus had answered our prayers and mercifully saved my life. 

One day I sat on the bed with 2 of my 3 surgeons and asked them questions.  They gave me the details of the surgery I’ve written here.  They also were quite un-surgeon like in their belief that my being alive was a miracle.  Their word, not mine.  As gently as possible they told me that not one team member believed I would leave the operating table alive.  But I did.  Once I was in the CCCU they believed that I might survive but not without brain damage.  But I did (no more brain damage than when I went into surgery).  They were amazed when I woke from the coma, when I left CCCU only 1 day after the vent was removed, and that I could now walk 60 feet.  It takes a miracle to impress cardiac surgeons.  I thank God that he chose me to be that miracle!  I know I’m not worthy but I learned a long time ago that this is the way of grace.

After the CSU I was transferred into the Acute Surgical Rehab Center at St. Mary’s Hospital. There I was given 3 hours of therapy a day and re-learned about 35 essential life skills (like how to put on your socks without pulling your incisions open). God blessed me there with caring, knowledgeable therapists.

It has been 10 years, a full decade, since I became a dead man walking but I will never forget the conspiracy of those faithful followers of Jesus who would not give up.   Without them I would not be alive.  Because of them I have had ten years to serve the Lord Jesus who in his mercy answered the prayers of his people to deliver me from death. I see every opportunity to serve in the last decade as a coveted means for me to make the most of this miracle! Thank you Jesus! I never cease to marvel at how many people loved me then and now.  I am the most blessed man alive!

Long live the conspiracy of the faithful who will not give up. 

The armies of Narnia are on the move.

Imagine

This post is from my friend Jim Musser’s blog

As churches across the nation shut down their physical worship services this morning, many replacing them with livestreaming events, I began imagining what this new reality will look like two or three months from now. Will Christian communities basically become a plethora of TV churches, with everyone sitting in their own homes with their eyes fixated on screens watching the same worship services to which they are accustomed attending in person? The pastors preaching sermons. The worship bands on stages playing songs.

The pandemic we are facing has no comparison to all but literally a few people in the world, those who were infants or toddlers in 1918 when the so-called “Spanish Flu” ravaged the world, infecting over 500 million and killing 20-50 million people. And just as that pandemic was a lifelong marker in the lives of many of our great-grandparents and grandparents, so this one will be a marker for our lives.

The question is, what kind of marker will this leave for us personally and for the Church? For the moment, based on God’s promise in Romans 8:28 to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, I want to imagine the good that will come out of this pandemic.

Imagine that Christians, instead of gathering in small groups around their computer or TV screens to watch livestreaming worship services, that they instead gather in homes to sing praises to the Lord, to pray for the world, the nation, their own communities, and for one another, and to read and discuss the Word of God. Perhaps they also enjoy a meal together that includes the Lord’s Supper. (Acts 2:42-47)

Imagine that believers truly humble themselves before the Lord in the face of this pandemic, recognizing that their lives are fragile and not guaranteed. (Psalm 39:4)

Imagine that Christians take an inventory of their priorities in life and move the Lord from the periphery of their lives to the center, making him the driving force rather than merely a side attraction. (John 14:21)

Imagine that Christians in communities, rather than isolating themselves from everyone, seek to serve those who are isolated out of necessity—the elderly and the sick—by bringing them food, household supplies, and medicine, by checking on them and even visiting them for awhile. (Matthew 25:34-36)

Imagine that followers of Jesus, rather than hoarding supplies such as sanitizers, toilet paper, and food, that they would look to share those things with others in need. (II Corinthians 8:13-15)

Imagine that in a time of economic hardship, Christians will be generous toward one another, making sure their brothers and sisters have what they need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Imagine that believers remain full of hope and peace instead of the despair and fear taking hold of the country, because they are confident in the power and love of the Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

Imagine that Christians in our nation act as the true Church has always acted: loving one another, serving one another, meeting each other’s needs, risking their lives for the sake of serving Jesus, and being a light of hope and peace for the unbelieving world. Imagine believers across our country, rather than being participants in an institution, instead are an integral part of a community who are united in their love for and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Imagine believers once again being the Church.

© Jim Musser 2020

Not to be Taken for Granted

The Hudson Family photo Thanksgiving 2019

I grew up with a dad, mom, three younger brothers, three first cousins my age, two grandmothers, one grandfather, ten uncles and aunts, several great uncles and aunts and more cousins than I can count. Growing up I took my amazing family for granted; only now am I able to see what a blessing and gift was our big extended family.

This Thanksgiving I took family photos for my mother and each of my brothers. Our two daughters, their husbands, and our seven grandsons were with their own families a state away but there were still 35 of us gathered together for Thanksgiving Day. It struck me what a wonderful feeling it is that we can count on this one simple day out of the year to bring us all together. Not even Christmas would bring each family together in one place.

The beautiful part of Thanksgiving was not the fantastic meal but the family time. Children of all ages spend time creating simple crafts, doing group activities, running in and out of the house, while the older children ate sweets and taught the toddlers to identify their great uncles and aunts. To understand why this particular Thanksgiving Day filled me with gratitude, it is probably important to point out that I have gone from oldest brother to the second oldest person in our extended family. My youth ended over fifty years ago and although my place in the family has gone from little boy to old man it is nice to know that our extended family still finds joy in being together. Even if it is only one day a year.

I am filled with gratitude for our big messy family. I am grateful for those who were together this Thanksgiving and for those we missed who couldn’t make it. I am especially grateful for those who are no longer with us but whose legacy to my generation is this not to be taken for granted family!

 

 

Cultivate and Care

Apollo 11 Earth_croppedGod created everything that is. The universe; the Milky Way and all other galaxies; the Sun and all other stars; the Solar System and all other solar systems; the Moon and all other moons; the Earth and all other planets, etc. He created all life and all the ecosystems to sustain that life then He created Humankind to take care of all he created on planet Earth. With stewardship of His creation in place he declared all His creation on planet Earth as good. 

Genesis 2:15 is His mandate for humankind, His crowning creation. Here humankind is entrusted with the cultivation and care of the world He created as our home.

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it

My struggle to take this mandate seriously has been aided by a few key insights that I want to briefly share with you.  I now believe that the purpose for which humankind was created was to be caretakers of God’s creation.

  • Creation

Our call to be responsible stewards of the environment is rooted in the biblical account of creation in which the earth was entrusted to our care. Humankind is created to cultivate and care for God’s creation.

  • Solidarity

The challenge of protecting the environment requires that the Church look beyond national, cultural, and other human boundaries to work for the common good of all. Citizens of the kingdom of God standing in solidarity can overcome any nation, any culture and any other boundaries which keep us from obeying our mandate.

  • Stewardship

Care for creation is fundamentally an act of stewardship. As faithful stewards we should receive the gift of creation gratefully, nurture it responsibly, share it justly and charitably, and return it to God abundantly.  As faithful stewards  we should love all of God’s vast creation, recognize God, the Creator, as He reveals Himself through His creation and nurture our environment to the glory of God..

  • Respect

The way we treat the environment is often mirrored in the way we treat one another. In other words the respect we show to God’s creation is reflected in the respect we have for one another. Disrespect (abuse) of the environment disproportionally impacts the poor, but impacts all of us as we are all dependent on the earth for our physical existence just as we are all dependent on God for our spiritual existence. Showing respect for this planet God has entrusted to us is just another way for us to respect one another since care for our environment is one way to see that all have their basic needs met.

Questions to ponder

  1. If we have a mandate to cultivate and care for God’s creation and we instead abuse it carelessly what does that say about our respect for God?
  2. If God made us stewards of His creation when he returns will he call us good and faithful stewards?
  3. If the Church united in solidarity against any political boundary or corporate power allowing hunger, disease and pain to flourish when its remedy already exists in God’s creation what impact would that have on how the world views the Church?
  4. Do we truly love God if we hate one another and His creation itself?
  5. Do we truly respect God if we disrespect one another and His creation itself? 

Creation Care

 

Through my work with Son Safaris I have developed a strong desire to see Christians take a more active role in caring for God’s creation.  The term “creation care” may be new to you but it simply means being stewards of God’s creation of which we are apart. But why is this stewardship important? To oversimplify I believe creation care is a “gospel issue”.
The “gospel” (“Good News” in Greek) is a way of speaking of the teachings at the heart of the Christian faith -the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When I place creation care as a “gospel issue” I am saying that it is an expression of our worship to God for our redemption through Jesus Christ. That means that we should care for God’s creation whether it were in crisis or not.
However there is a real crisis in God’s creation now. People, animals and plants are dying because we human beings have abused God’s world. But I believe this present environmental crisis is not the primary reason for creation care. Christians should be set apart from other environmentalists because we do what we do because we love God and His creation. So if we lived in a world with no environmental problems, we would still be tending God’s world. As the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment put it:
“Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.”
Just imagine if the global community of Christians were to accept the premise that caring for God’s creation is a core part of our identity. Love God! Love others! Care for God’s creation.  Perhaps we would not have such a critical crisis in God’s creation as we do today. But we haven’t taken creation care seriously and there is an environmental crisis that must be addressed by everyone in society, especially God’s people.  Today both God’s human and  non-human creation is being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part.  Just imagine if Christians were to lead the charge to solve these ecological challenges.
Much suffering and devastation is directly tied to human activity. Some of the damage is directly caused when poor farmers abuse their land in a futile attempt to wrest a little more food from already exhausted soils. Much of the suffering though, comes not from their own actions but from that of others. Excess consumption in the richer parts of the world is creating great problems among people who have had nothing to consume.
We are failing in the sacred trust given to us by God to care for His creatures. In the last 40 years we have lost half of earth’s entire stock of wildlife, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This should bother any human being; it should devastate those of us who are Christians.
Christians have a unique role to play in guiding human society toward a healthier and happier relationship with God’s creation. The church has global reach – a truly multinational network. The church has political influence. The church has money. And the church has people – billions of them. All of these are reasons why anyone who cares about God’s creation or the environmental crisis should want the church to be involved.
But there is another deeper but more important reason why the church needs to take on this task.  Bluntly stated environmental problems are sin problems. What I mean is that the root causes of every environmental issue in some way gets back to flawed human beings and sinful hearts: Materialism, greed, selfishness, fear. All of these lie at the root of the things that we do as individuals and as a society that have produced the crisis we now find ourselves in.
For environmental problems to be conquered, human hearts must be reconciled to God. Human hearts can only be reconciled to God by the Gospel – the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. What better platform for the Gospel could there be than to mobilize the church to care for God’s creation? Imagine the impact if Christians were leading the charge to care for God’s creation!

The Only Perfection We Need

Farai ChidyeaFarai Chideya was born on July 27, 1969, in Baltimore, Maryland of an African-American mother  and a Zimbabwean father. In 1990 she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. Her accomplishments since include writing several novels and nonfiction books, becoming an award winning  multimedia journalist, including hosting her own radio show on NPR.  For 15 years she produced and hosted Pop and Politics with Farai Chideya, a series of radio specials on politics. She currently produces and hosts One with Farai, a podcast for Public Radio International, in which she interviews distinguished individuals with a range of stories and opinions. 

To all outward appearances Farai is a total success but the truth is for years her self worth was tied to looking like the glossy images  of women she saw in the make – believe world of television. She became so obsessed with having the perfect female body that she became a bulimic, binging and purging consumed her life and distorted her self image. 

Commenting on her battle with bulimia’s destructive grip, she says,  

  “Losing weight didn’t change my personality and it didn’t lighten the emotional baggage I carried from my childhood.  I thought I wanted to be thin.  What I really wanted was to be happy; neither my looks nor my achievements could do that.  Because I couldn’t love or accept myself, the acceptance of others was never enough.  When I tried to be perfect, I came across as remote and unapproachable, yet the exact opposite was what I wanted.”

Perfection. We all want it. It is an American obsession.

In addition to disorders like bulimia and anorexia, perfection obsession also wraps you in loneliness because you can never let anyone see your imperfections which means never fully revealing yourself to anyone. Vulnerabilty, honesty and openness are the building blocks of lasting, intimate relationships.  

Perfection obsession causes us to see our shortcomings as something to hide, rather than seeing them as opportunities for growth.  It keeps us focused on who we are going to be and what we are going to do in the future, and prevents us from focusing on enjoying who we are and what we are doing in the here and  now.  Perfection obsession robs us of our chance to make our life count because we are putting so much effort into fixing ourself that we have no focus or energy left to help others.

Bulimia and anorexia are terrible disorders that can consume your life, but they are symptoms of a deeper issue – getting our self worth from the wrong source – of trying to find love in all the wrong places – of perfection obsession. Stories like Farai’s  give us great insight into what happens when we get our self worth from the wrong source! Whether that source is the perfect body, the perfect mind, the perfect relationship, the perfect career, the perfect academic career, or any other perfect accomplishment you care to add – they all have this is common: they are defined by others (society, media, peers, expectations, academia, romanticism, etc.). We each must choose whether to let others determine our self worth or to let God determine our self worth. 

Scripture teaches and experience validates that God loves us with an everlasting love that we do not and can not earn. His love for us is intrinsic to who He is, not who we are, and therefore we are in no danger of losing it. Choose to let others determine your self worth and you will constantly be in danger of losing it. Choose to let God determine your self worth and not only are you in no danger of losing it but it requires no effort beyond  accepting the unwavering, unending love freely given to us by our Heavenly Father. This choice should be a no-brainer!

God’s love is the only perfection we need – and we do not have to obsess over attaining it – it quite simply is ours for the taking!

You have worth because God loves you – his perfect love is the only perfection  you will ever need.

Trump, Moral Relativism, and the American Church

Last night I was talking to a grad student here at UGA that I had just met.  He told me he was very concerned about the possibility of a nuclear attack on North Korea by the United States.  Without thinking I blurted out that having Donald Trump as the decision maker as to how to use our nuclear arsenal scared me to death.  His response surprised me.  He said, “I voted for Trump but I didn’t think it through.  I hate Hillary Clinton so I voted against her but I didn’t really visualize Trump as POTUS.” I did, which is why he didn’t get my vote.

7de7c0aa10e9f514e1a15dc44c5d0144I have opposed Donald Trump since he announced he was running in June of 2015. My take on policy and priorities leans center left, which should make me lean toward Democrats.  While I have considerable policy disagreements with Trump, that it is not what drives my opposition. My conviction stems from being a disciple of Jesus.

There is, however, a former Republican  and now Independent that has piqued my interest. Ewan McMullin wants to regain control of “the heart and soul of conservatism”. I believe the 2020 Presidential election will be a battle for the center-right and center-left of America. McMullin, although more conservative than me, could be  a serious threat to the incumbent if he decides to run. Oh, by the way, McMullin is a former CIA operative and a practicing Mormon.

Now is the time that those who know me are asking, “Why would anyone vote for a Mormon candidate while citing the immaturity of Trump’s Christian faith as a reason for not supporting his Presidency?”  Good question!  Here is my response.

My primary concern is not about what nation Trump attacks next or who he appoints to the Supreme Court, or even the alt right executive orders he seems to issue daily. My concern is the witness of the Church. We are called to be ambassadors for Jesus, to exhibit love and compassion, to speak up about injustice. We are resident-aliens in this world, not citizens comfortable with the status quo. The intensity of that commitment is that the Kingdom of God even takes precedence over family ties (Luke 14:26). Anything that takes precedence over our commitment to Jesus and His agenda is idolatry.

Until Jesus is on the ballot, every candidate will have shortcomings. Forget about looking for perfection.  A candidate can be a very crooked stick and still exhibit the general moral character of love and compassion and an unwillingness to ignore injustice. The President’s lifestyle not his specific religious doctrinal beliefs is what determines the witness of the Church during his or her presidency.  The Church itself, of course, is not dependent on whomever is elected to lift up that which is good and oppose that which is not.  First and foremost the Church should be a community that exhibits the marks of the Kingdom of God.

The issue is not that Trump is “Not My President”.  He is my president and I pray for him daily. The issue is the attempt by right wing Christians to characterize Trump as basically a good guy, a baby Christian, who is just a little rough around the edges. Really?

Have you read The Art of the Deal? Have you paid attention to his professional and personal lifestyle?  Trump’s lifestyle is the very antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount. During his campaign when asked by Jimmy Fallon if he ever apologized for anything Trump replied “I will absolutely apologize some time in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” He is the apostle for the gospel of “win at all costs”.  Opponents are not to be just defeated but destroyed and humiliated. He advocates seducing the wives of rivals to humiliate them and, during his campaign, bragged about having done so himself.  To Trump there are only two types of people: those who are unflinchingly loyal to him or those who are absolute losers. Everything about him exudes an unstable vindictive predatory character. His “unfortunate” tweets are not the product of an unpolished public figure. They are the product of a calculating, manipulative, pathological personality.

Democracy runs on the basis that there are competing views in society. When someone wins an election, the loser concedes and the winner leaves the loser standing, ready to fight another day.  It is this understanding that no victory or loss is ever final, that keeps American society moving along. Disagreement is the norm, not the exception, of a free, democratic society.

Trump, however, routinely demonstrates he cannot tolerate the presence of opposition! Not even from beauty queens. From the beginning of the campaign to his present Presidency, his emphasis has been on what HE is going to do. By sheer force of his personality and will, without regard for the basics of governance, HE is going to fix everything. This is hubris, not leadership. Hubris plus a vindictive predatory temperament equals authoritarianism.

I believe there were many Christians, like me, who cast their vote, not because they were enthusiastically behind the conservative or progressive candidate, but simply for the lesser of two evils. But then there are those Christians who now are Trump apologists, determined to legitimize his profound evils. Considering all the criticism leveled at the moral failings of candidates in the past it is difficult to see this as anything other than  hypocrisy. When their political agenda is at stake, all concern about character seems to fly out the window.  If you think Trump is the best President in our lifetime, fine. But do not act as if his Presidency minimizes what kind of man he is.

The Church’s mission is not to help candidates win elections but to give witness to the agenda of Jesus. That witness is seen through martyrdom rather than hateful authoritarian demagoguery.

I am not that familiar with McMullin.  But he seems to be a principled man with admirable ethical standards, who aspires to build a more civil society. If that perception is true, he is a welcome change to the political stage, regardless of what his specific doctrinal beliefs are.

For many the fact that Donald Trump is the POTUS is visceral. Social psychologists call it “motivated perception,” a condition where what we see is shaped by what we feel is at stake. Thus the motivation to justify and rationalize Trump’s Presidency is powerful. In 2011 the Public Religion Research Institute at Brookings asked people whether someone who had committed immoral acts in their private life could still be effective in their political or professional life. Nationwide, 44% said Yes. The same question was asked in 2016 nationwide the  Yes vote had risen to 61%. But the move to compartmentalize sin was most pronounced among those who were most conservative. In 2011 only 30% White Evangelicals given the same question said yes. But in 2016  71% of White Evangelicals answered the same question yes becoming the religious segment most likely to believe that someone who commits immoral acts in private life can govern ethically..

When holding a moral standard meant substantial loss, they embraced moral relativity, the cardinal sin of “secular-progressives” they so despise. Again, my point is that Christians who are Trump backers should not minimize nor trivialize the kind of man he has shown himself to be.

Right leaning Christians are not purely to blame for the moral relativity in the American Church. Its roots span the political spectrum and reveal a much deeper problem, much of American Church is not formed by the gospel of Jesus. A great many progressive Christians have concluded that the answer to conservative Christians is to move to the far left Social gospel. Even though they are doing the same “othering” as they criticize the Right for doing, they justify it as “prophetic” and “social justice advocacy.”  But the solution is not a more progressive church. The solution is a more loving church, a loving community of resident-aliens, seeking the welfare of their host culture, seeking truth no matter the implications for our host culture’s political agendas. Right, left, or whatever, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the church abandon moral relativity and once again take up the agenda of Jesus and His Kingdom.